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Saint Mary’s 12th annual African American Read In celebrates literary, artistic voices

Lift every voice and read! Saint Mary’s School presents its 12th annual celebration of the African American Read-In (AARI), Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, during a special assembly in historic Pittman Auditorium.

Lift every voice and read! The written word and performance art can be powerful forces for social change, protest, inspiration, reflection, insight into the lives of others, and self-expression about personal experiences and perspectives. When read aloud, beautifully written words, combined with artistic performance, reach their height of power, as they promise to do at Saint Mary’s 12th annual celebration of the African American Read-In (AARI), Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, during a special assembly, 10:45 a.m., in historic Pittman Auditorium. Following the assembly, we will enjoy celebratory soul food lunch and voting-themed extravaganza in the dining hall.

In celebration of the 150th anniversary of the 15th Amendment allowing African American men the right to vote, the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment granting all women the right to vote, and the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act enforcing the right for African Americans to vote, the theme for Black History Month and our African American Read-In is African Americans and the Vote.

“In recognition of this year’s Black History Month theme of African Americans and the Vote, the AARI Student Planning Committee and Saint Mary’s Dining Hall have planned an African Americans and the Vote themed Soul Food lunch for everyone,” says AARI co-leader J’Lah Johnson ’20. “Everyone will have the opportunity to read quotes by well-known African Americans about voting and elections, and you will vote for a dining hall favorite food. We hope to get 100% voter participation. Also, voter registration forms are available for students who will be old enough to vote in the general election in November.”

The 2020 student-led AARI – sponsored by the Black Student Union, the Student Diversity Equity and Inclusivity Taskforce, and the Bookmark Club – purposefully sets aside time to appreciate and celebrate literary and artistic works by African American authors and artists.

“The AARI assembly will be a wonderfully inspiring event featuring some of the groundbreaking and legendary voices of the past beautifully presented by Saint Mary’s students, including Ladies in Blue and Orchesis,” says Diana Williams, director of Kenan Library and a faculty advisor to the event. “Saint Mary’s joins in a 30-year tradition that has brought millions of citizens together throughout the United States to celebrate the significant gifts African American authors and artists have made to our heritage.”

Included in the readings will be the newly announced 2020 Caldecott Award winner, The Undefeated, written by Kwame Alexander and illustrated by Kadir Nelson.

The African American Read-In is a national program in which people across the country read literature by African American authors in celebration of African American literacy. The goal is to explore the vastness of the African American experience through literature. The National African American Read-In is the nation’s first and oldest event dedicated to diversity in literature. It was established in 1990 by the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English to make literacy a significant part of Black History Month. This initiative has reached more than 6 million participants around the world. The Saint Mary's African American Read-In is an opportunity to set aside time to appreciate the musical and literary accomplishments of African Americans.

In 1989, the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English accepted the Issues Committee's recommendation that the Black Caucus sponsor a nationwide Read-In on the first Sunday of February. At the request of educators, the week was designated for educational institutions. It was envisioned that following a decade of rigorous campaigning for participants, the African American Read-Ins would become a traditional part of Black History Month celebrations. The commitment for nationwide promotion extends from 1990 to the present. In 1990, the National Council of Teachers of English joined in the sponsorship of the African American Read-In Chain.

Kudos,  to the AARI Planning Committee:  J’Lah Johnson ’20, Ti-Shawn Wellington ’21, Riley Bensen ’21, Lys Metina-Belknap ’21, Isabel Moran ’21, Annie T. Ham ’21, Matilda McCard ’21, Samara Kayobotsi ’23, and Ms. Jennifer Moran, Ms. Lisa Yount, Ms. Diana Williams, and Ms. Aisha Burton – advisors.